Severus Snape sat in the Headmaster's office, impatiently tapping his fingers on the wooden arms of the visitor's chair he currently occupied. It was green. The Headmaster had one in each of the four house colors, and Severus always sat in the green one even though there was no rule about where one sat (the man would have probably let him sit in his chair if he asked). It just felt wrong to sit in one of the other colors being a Slytherin. He'd been waiting for ten minutes for the man to appear. They'd had an appointment after all. He supposed Dumbledore had more interesting things to deal with than Severus Snape, the youngest Professor at Hogwarts, and his aspirations to become the Slytherin head of house. Severus was annoyed by the Headmaster's tardiness naturally. He took pride in his punctualness and like sitting in a red, yellow, or blue chair when there was an unoccupied green one, not being punctual to a meeting just seemed wrong. Severus had no illusions that his was the most urgent need in the castle to attend to at the moment though. No, there were other issues to be looking after. Issues like Harry Potter.
Four nights ago there had been an owl (half dead looking) from Potter's relatives. Severus wondered how a Muggle would have convinced one to come near enough to tie a letter to, but they seemed to have managed. It had stated clearly that they no longer wished to look after their nephew and that they had put him on a train to Scotland, and that it was Albus Dumbledore's duty to look after him from that point on. The Headmaster had not been happy and had gone straight to Surrey to find out which train they had put Harry on and why. He had not shared the why with anyone thus far, but Severus hadn't dared to ask either. He knew better than to poke an agitated bear with a stick. Minerva had pestered Dumbledore for details and had been properly chastised. Foolish Gryffindors. The Dursleys apparently couldn't remember which train they'd put the boy on, and it had taken the Headmaster an entire day to locate him with a locator spell. By the time he found him, Harry had spent two days and a night by himself at an abandoned train platform at the end of the line in Thurso. Since then he'd been in the castle for the last two days, no doubt being pampered by the staff, but Severus had yet to see him, and he didn't want to either. The boy was none of his business. Lily had made that clear to him from the moment she and James Potter had gotten engaged, and since that moment Severus had taken her words to heart. James Potter was none of his business, and therefore the son she had with James Potter was none of his business. No matter that they were both dead. He had no desire to stick his nose in where it didn't belong.
The door finally opened behind him and the Headmaster came in. "Severus, my apologies for being late."
"I understand," Severus said, sitting up straight in the green chair. When he was making a request like this one, he didn't feel the need to rock the boat by seeming irritated with the elder man's late entrance.
Albus sat behind his desk, opened a drawer and rummaged for a moment, and then closed it and gave Severus his attention. Then he laughed. It made Severus uncomfortable. He was the youngest Professor there and it didn't matter that he was 30, he still felt like a pupil in front of Albus Dumbledore.
"Relax Severus. I have never seen anyone sit so rigid in one of those chairs as you do whenever you call upon me."
Severus relaxed marginally though he doubted the Headmaster would notice. The aging man's smile didn't fade however as he spoke. "I assume this visit is regarding your request to take over as Slytherin Head of House for Colm Carcroft?"
He gave a single nod. "It is. I wished to enquire about any headway with your decision."
Dumbledore narrowed his eyes slightly as if considering something. "You're very young Severus, and while I know that you've worked hard these last three years to build up a stern reputation amongst the students, I wonder if they'll respond to you in the way you'll need them to if you're the Head of House to over 80 children."
He stiffened in his chair again. "I believe I can keep control and maintain order."
"They're Slytherins Severus. Cunning and careful, loyal and sometimes wise. They're planners. Just last week Colm had to stake out a hidden room down the corridor from the library to catch them at dueling after the end of term feast." Colm Carcroft was a fifty something year old man who had a lot of experience dealing with wayward Slytherins. He was a good head of house, and Severus wished he'd been the Head of house when he had been a student instead of Slughorn. Maybe Carcroft would have made a difference in the way things had turned out for him. But the man wanted to retire. Nine years of shepherding Slytherins had apparently tired him out.
"I am also cunning," Severus pointed out, and Albus nodded with a wise smile and winked at him, which made Severus feel even younger.
"I'm aware of your abilities. It's more than being cunning and stern though. A lot more. You have to understand children and what they're going through. You have to be willing to be there for them at all hours of the day and night. We are their parents when they're away from home. We are the ones they come to for comfort and guidance."
"You believe I am incapable." It wasn't a question, and Severus was starting to feel irritated. He wasn't a child! He could handle this!
"Of being a teacher? No. Of being a disciplinarian? You have proved you are more than capable. But what about being a mentor Severus? You're still young. You've only been teaching for three years."
Severus was starting to feel like he was losing the thread of confidence he'd come in with. The Headmaster was saying no to him, again. He'd already denied him twice for the Defense Against The Dark Arts position, and Severus had elected not to apply again for the coming year because he was asking instead to take over as Head of Slytherin.
"Have you anything else to say?"
"It appears you have made up your mind and will not be swayed. What I have to say is of little consequence and it would be unwise to continue speaking." He drummed his fingers irritatedly on the wood armrest of the green chair again. He wished there was a gray or brown chair he could sit in to feel more like staff and less like a student. It would help if the chair was higher off the ground too. Not that the one he was in was lower than usual.
Albus sighed. "I don't mean to disparage your age Severus. Young men do great things all the time. For all I know you could be a magnificent leader to the young minds of Slytherin House. You could also be a terrible one if you're not ready for the position."
"And what am I to do to persuade you that I am capable of being magnificent?" Only two people in his life had ever told him or implied that he could be great at anything. One had turned out to be the most evil wizard of all time. The other was sitting in front of him with his fingers steepled.
Dumbledore was silent for long moments in thought, and Severus was glad that he seemed to be at least putting in an effort to give him options. If it meant putting in more hours, or taking some sort of course, he could deal with that, even if it meant taking time away from his efforts at gaining a mastery level certificate in Potions. After nearly three minutes had passed, Albus Dumbledore's eyes lit up and he smiled.
"Severus, I believe I have one solution for two problems." He seemed very pleased with himself about it.
"Which would be?"
"You need experience. You need to prove you're capable of seeing to not only the educational and disciplinary needs of children, but the entire well being of them as well. And as it so happens there is a child currently in this castle who is in need of a temporary guardian until a more permanent one can be found for him."
Severus' fingers stopped drumming on the armrest and he stiffened. The Potter boy? The boy that was absolutely none of his business? He'd promised Lily. He had to stay away from him. "Potter."
"Harry Potter, yes. You are aware that his relatives... sent him back to us. He's in a guest room now."
"You want me to be Harry Potter's guardian."
"It would be a wonderful solution to two problems, don't you think?"
Severus opened his mouth, and then closed it again. The man didn't trust Severus with Slytherins, and he wanted to ask why he trusted him to take care of the Boy Who Lived. The wizarding world's boy hero. He couldn't ask though. He also wanted to complain about how being the sole guardian of a child that age would take up all his time and put his plans for a Potions Mastery on permanent hold, but held his tongue on that too. If he were the Head of Slytherin house, he'd have to have time for a lot more than one child.
"What do you think Severus?"
"There is no one else willing to take him?" If he asked questions as though he was considering it, he could have some time to think about it couldn't he? If he told the Headmaster that Lily had practically shouted at him to stay away from her child, he might change his mind about the request and then where would he be?
"While I wish I had the energy of youth once again, I do not. I would not be able to keep up with such a young lad. Minerva dotes on him, but you're aware that her duties as Headmistress take up all of her free time, even in the summer. The other Professors have families and traveling and research to be getting to in the summer months and are not willing to bring along a nine year old boy."
Severus was too curious now for his own good. Somehow he could feel himself being dragged into this mess, as if by invisible magic. Don't poke the bear, he thought to himself, but his curiosity was too strong. "Why are his relatives no longer interested in taking care of him?" He waited for the harsh words Minerva had received two days ago for asking, but the Headmaster seemed to take his question into serious consideration. Perhaps because they were talking about temporary guardianship, and any guardian would need to know.
Dumbledore pulled open another desk drawer and pulled out a letter on lined Muggle paper from right on top. He slid it across the desk to Severus, who picked it up.
To whomever it concerns regarding Harry James Potter,
He's yours. We don't want him. He's too much of a nuisance. We've put him on a train to Scotland to go to that Hoggy-whats-it school of yours. Don't send him back.
Very Seriously Yours,
Vernon and Petunia Dursley
Severus raised his brows when he finished the letter and set it back on the desk. Dumbledore looked serious. "They said he gets low grades, is lazy, and is always in trouble. They told me he constantly picks fights with his cousin and other neighborhood children, and frequently comes home from school bloodied and bruised. Apparently he is behind one grade level from his cousin who is the same age, and has frequent and 'disturbing' bouts of accidental magic. Those are their words, not mine."
Wonderful, Severus thought. He wants me to take care of a delinquent. He didn't say it though. Many of the other professors there considered nine out of ten Slytherins delinquents, though Severus didn't agree.
"Of course, my opinion of Harry doesn't match up with the letter or their account of him, and neither does Minerva's. Poppy did find bruises and evidence of a frequent history of injuries and fractures. Petunia Dursley said Harry had run up several thousand dollars in medical bills last year alone and they were no longer willing to pay for his boisterous behavior. You seem awfully quiet about this Severus."
He looked up at the Headmaster and his mouth started moving apart from his brain. "How long does he need a guardian?"
"Until we find another suitable long-term guardian. I don't know Severus. With his status, people have to be interviewed to be sure they have his best interests at heart. That means using Veritaserum and you know we need permission from the Ministry for every person we give it to. I would say up to six months until someone can be found."
No, no, I can't take him. Lily wouldn't want me to. But his mouth was moving again and to his horror words were coming out. He wanted to be Head of Slytherin so badly. His other friends had jobs at the Ministry or owned their own businesses, and he wanted to be more than just a teacher (a pity hiring he'd heard Lucius say). He wanted status. A Potions Master, not just a Potions Professor. A Head of House, not just a lowly teacher. "And this will prove my worth to you?"
"Worth Severus? You have an abundance of worth. But it will show whether or not you can handle the entire well-being of a child. If you can't handle one child, how will you handle 80? You're organized Severus. You're cunning, you're responsible, and even brave. If you can be all of those at once for Harry, you could meet and exceed all of my expectations for a Head of House and help Harry along the way."
"Is that a yes Severus?"
No, it most certainly is not. Keep your mouth closed! Shake your head no and walk away! Be happy with what you've got! "Yes."
Dumbledore leaned back in his chair. "There's just one more thing then Severus." Severus raised his brows and the Headmaster smiled. "You've been here for three years. If you're going to be Head of House, you should get used to calling me Albus."
Severus gave a nod and stood from the green chair. He felt like it had betrayed him somehow and gave it a look of disdain.
"Albus," he said with a curt nod as he departed, trying to force the awkwardness from his voice. What had he gotten himself into now?
* * *
The boy turned around. There could be no question that it was him the stern voice wanted to talk to. He was the only other one in the Great Hall eating lunch. His green eyes traveled up, up, up to the stern gaze of a dark eyed, dark haired man.
"My name is Severus Snape. I am your temporary guardian from this point forward."
"Oh." Harry let his eyes fall down to the floor. Down to shiny black shoes and crisp black pants. Uncle Vernon had told Dudley several times that you could tell a lot about a person by the way they dressed. Harry guessed that by the way Severus Snape dressed, he liked things to be tidy and clean and organized. He would probably speak as sharp as he dressed. Harry wondered then what the man thought of the way he dressed, and wished he had a choice in the matter. He was wearing Dudley's old jeans which were ripped at the ankles and had a hole in one knee. They were faded like his t-shirt which was starting to unravel at the bottom hem. He knew the man couldn't see his shoes under the long wooden table, and for that he was glad, because they were the worst of all. No longer white, they looked dirty no matter what he did to them, and the laces were broken and dirty. He was thankful at least that the Dumbledore man had fixed his glasses so they were no longer taped at the bridge of the nose.
"Are you finished eating?"
"Yes," Harry said, though the answer was no. He had to eat slow so he could get it all down, and had only managed half his sandwich so far. There was an apple he desperately wanted to eat as well, but he could tell this man was probably the impatient type.
"Follow me." He didn't wait for Harry to stand up, and strode off. Harry looked longingly back at the other half of his sandwich and the apple, and let his shoulders fall as he hurried after Severus Snape.
They walked across the Entrance Hall and through a stone archway that lead to stairs. Down the stairs Harry could feel the atmosphere growing colder, and when they reached the bottom, he wished he had a long sleeve shirt on, or one of those robes people seemed to like to wear here. At least he would fit in if he had one, he thought. He didn't know why he was surprised to be in the dungeons. He had lived in a cupboard under the stairs for the last eight years. Being in a castle now he thought the Dungeons was a very logical place for him to live.
He tried to keep track of the corridors they went down and how many left and right turns they made, but it was hopeless. By the time they got to a heavy wooden door, Harry was lost, and a little frightened. He'd never find his way back to the upper part of the castle now.
"This is where I live," the man said as he opened the door and lead Harry inside. It was small, but cozy. There was a fireplace and an L shaped couch and a comfortable looking dark green chair. There were also bookshelves lined with odd looking books and a desk with several stacks of papers.
"The kitchen is through that door. The bathroom is here, the first door on the left in the hall. My room is at the end. This is your room."
Harry looked at the door the man was pointing to, and wondered if it was a broom cupboard. When the man didn't say anything else, Harry opened the door and was surprised to find a regular room. It had a twin bed and a wardrobe and that was it. There were no sheets or pillows on the bed and no rug on the floor. The walls and floor were made of stone like in the rest of the castle, and it felt like a cell more than anything else. It was a big cell though. Five times the size of Harry's little cupboard at home. And it was a real bed, not a cot with a hole at the foot of it like the one he'd been using since he was three.
The man came in behind him and waved his wand. White sheets and a cream colored blanket appeared on the bed along with a pillow. Harry was amazed. He'd never had sheets before, and the pillow looked so comfortable and fluffy. He turned to look up at the man in awe, but found him staring at him with cold, calculating eyes.
"You may not go into my room for any reason, and you may not use my desk or touch anything on my desk for any reason. If you wish to leave the quarters, you may do so provided you return after dinner. Do not venture more than 100 yards from the front steps of the castle and do not go beyond the second floor of the castle unless escorted by a staff member."
Harry nodded, trying to file away all of the new rules. He would have to go over them later and memorize them. Breaking the rules was always bad, and he wished he had a pencil and paper to write them all down on.
"The Headmaster says you are behind a grade level. What do you have to say for yourself?"
Nothing but excuses, Harry thought. Dudley never let him do his homework, so he always did badly on tests and never had anything to turn in with his name on it.
"I expect an answer."
"I don't have any."
"Excuses sir," Harry said, and for the moment this answer seemed to satisfy the man.
"Tomorrow I will provide you with a test to see where you are academically and then you will spend the summer studying in order to catch up. If you are still with me at the end of the summer, there is a small school in Hogsmeade which you will attend that teaches pre-Hogwarts subjects like reading, writing, maths, and history."
A school away from Dudley. Harry wasn't sure whether or not to be excited. He had always thought he could do well if Dudley wasn't there.
"You will do your chores daily or you will find yourself grounded. You will not argue, you will not pick fights, and you will not be lazy. Am I understood?"
Harry nodded. He never picked fights and avoided arguing at all costs, so those things wouldn't be a problem. Uncle Vernon always said he was lazy though, so he'd have to work extra hard not to be. He wondered what kinds of chores he would be doing here.
"Fine. For now you are to eat your meals in the Great Hall. Dinner is in three hours." He turned and left, leaving the door open, and Harry standing there in the room alone. That- hadn't been so bad, Harry thought. He definitely seemed strict like aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon, but at least there didn't seem to be a version of Dudley living here.
Harry sat on his bed and wished he had a watch. He hadn't seen a clock in the living room they'd passed through, and wondered how he would know when dinner time was, and if he could find his way back to the Great Hall when the time came. Deciding to stay there and follow his new guardian up to dinner, Harry stared at the walls and tried not to fidget. Fidgeting wasn't allowed at home, and probably wouldn't be allowed here either.